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Attorneys General Prepare for a Disaster

The NAAG Southern Region held its biannual meeting Jan. 26 – 27 in Tampa, Fla. Co-hosted by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi , Southern Region chair, and Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, Southern Region vice chair, the meeting brought together eight Attorneys General and over 60 participants representing 15 Attorneys General offices, various state emergency management agencies, corporate executives, and the public to discuss every aspect of disaster preparedness from basic agency organization and management to protecting the public and establishing public/private partnerships.

The meeting began with an excellent presentation by Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), on the organization and operations of one of the nation’s preeminent state emergency management agencies. Given the consistent frequency of natural disasters in Florida from wildfires to hurricanes, FDEM has a wealth of experience to draw upon in preparing for and handling disasters. The first panel of the meeting addressed how to keep the Attorney General’s office open and operating following a disaster. Moderated by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, panelists included Terryl Brown, New York assistant deputy attorney general, and Susanne Young, Vermont assistant attorney general. The discussion focused on personnel management, communication, facilities, and public service. Rounding out the morning sessions was the lunch panel on lessons learned. Onetta Whitley, Mississippi deputy attorney general, Howard McCoach, New Jersey assistant attorney general, and Terryl Brown shared their personal experiences from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the recent East Coast flooding.

The afternoon panels began with the first of two focused on consumer protection. Moderated by Attorney General Bob Cooper, the first panel included Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Bob Butterworth, former Florida Attorney General, and Debra Lumpkins, Missouri assistant attorney general. This panel drilled down on issues surrounding price gouging - how to identify it, how to prevent it, and how to address it when it occurs. Attorney General Koster narrated a very moving slide presentation on the aftermath of the tornado which struck Joplin, Mo. The second panel was moderated by Jim Tierney, former Maine Attorney General and director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School. Panelists included Cindy Lott, senior counsel with the National State Attorneys General Program, Julia White, North Carolina assistant attorney general, and Stacie deBlieux, Louisiana assistant attorney general. This panel discussed the issues surrounding charities fraud during and after disasters, and working with insurance companies. The final panel of the day was moderated by Attorney General Bob Cooper and included Steve Dozier, vice president of Global Security, Aviation and Travel at Wal-Mart, Frank Wise, executive director, Florida region for Verizon Wireless, and David Zocchetti, chief counsel at the California Emergency Management Agency. This panel focused on public/private partnerships and how the business community can assist state government agencies in responding to disasters. The day concluded with an evening reception at the lovely home of Attorney General Bondi.

The final day of the meeting saw two very informative and at times dramatic panel presentations. The first panel was moderated by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and included Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, Col. Barry Bernstein, staff judge advocate for the South Carolina National Guard, Bill Dodson, Texas disaster planning coordinator, and Emery Gainey, director of Victim’s Services and Criminal Justice Program with the Florida Attorney General’s Office. This panel covered criminal justice issues including keeping the courts operating, supporting law enforcement, evacuating prisoners, and protecting fragile evidence and records. The final panel of the meeting was moderated by Attorney General Bondi. She was joined by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (who went on record noting he was from southern North Dakota), Terry Alario, chief of operations for the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, Bob Butterworth, and Emery Gainey. This panel discussed innovative responses to various disaster scenarios. Attorney General Stenehjem shared his offices response to the massive flooding which struck Minot, N.D.

Perhaps the most important message, which was often repeated, was to establish relationships before the emergency arrives; relationships with federal agencies, particularly FEMA, state agencies, the private business sector, and the Attorney General staff.

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FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL BONDI
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TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL COOPER